Episode 159 – Burton Pike


Virtual Memories Show #159:
Burton Pike

“When you translate, you are digging into not so much the psyche of the author but the psyche of the author’s use of language.”

51EULu1tNBL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Translator and emeritus literature professor Burton Pike joins the show to talk about his lifetime in the arts, the musicality and rhythm of language, the experience of translating early Proust, whether national literature departments are an outdated concept, the peculiarities of various Swiss ethnicities, how his dream project — Musil’s The Man Without Qualities — fell into his lap, and more! Give it a listen!

“The Man Without Qualities is written not from a literary but a scientific point of view. It’s predicated on the fact that everything changes and nothing stays stable. And of course that includes this novel itself.”

We also talk about the joys of hitchhiking across Europe in the ’50s, the reasons he came to New York and the reasons he stays, the disappearance of high German culture — Goethe, Schilling, et al. — from postwar Germany, the problems with Moncrieff’s fruity translation of Proust, his objection to calling Die Verwandlung The Metamorphosis, and more! Go listen!

“When a German is in sight, Swiss Germans revert to their native patois, because they’re horrified that they’ll be taken for German. The French look down on French Swiss and Belgians, of course, because they’re not French. The Swiss French, their faces are glued to the window pane of France. And the Italian Swiss? They’re perfectly happy and at home and have no problem.”

Also, if you want to find out who Burton is reading nowadays and get a list of the books we talked about in this episode, join our Patreon and become a monthly contributor to The Virtual Memories Show! At the end of March, the new episode of our patron-only podcast, Fear of a Square Planet, will go up with a bonus segment about who he’s reading and why.

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

25535972945_f40867c27e_zBurton Pike is professor emeritus of comparative literature and Germanic languages and literature at the CUNY Graduate Center. He did his undergraduate studies at Haverford College and received his PhD from Harvard University. He has taught at the University of Hamburg, Cornell University, and Queens College and Hunter College of the City University of New York. He has also been a Visiting Professor at Yale University. He is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, and a Fulbright fellowship. He was awarded the Medal of Merit by the City of Klagenfurt, Austria, for his work on Robert Musil. Finalist and special citation, PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize for editing and co-translating Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. He is the winner of the 2012 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize for Gerhard Meier’s Isle of the Dead.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at Professor Pike’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same setup. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Head by me.

Episode 130 – The Cult of Experience and the Tyranny of Relevance

Virtual Memories Show #130:
Elizabeth Samet –
The Cult of Experience and the Tyranny of Relevance

“How do you learn things? How do you acquire the patience to admit when you don’t know things? I think those are really important things for an Army officer to know.”

41X6zxtIM4L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Elizabeth D. Samet has been a professor of English at West Point since 1997. We talk about the tension between education and training at the military academy, the importance of books to soldiers and officers serving overseas, learning West Point’s unique argot, preparing her students to be unprepared, trying (and failing) to convince Robert Fagles that Hector is the moral center of the Iliad, why she doesn’t teach Henry V to plebes, how not to get caught up in the tyranny of relevance, why she balked at learning the fine art of parachuting, and more! Give it a listen!

“The question I’m endlessly fascinated with is, what do we call war and what do we call peace and can we draw these nice distinctions? It seems to me right now that we can’t.”

NOTE: The opinions Elizabeth Samet expresses in this interview are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of West Point, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.

We also talk about teaching students who are both future Army officers and 18-year-old kids, how West Point and the student body changed after 9/11, her new anthology (Leadership) and her first two books (Soldier’s Heart and No Man’s Land), her house-on-fire list of books to save, her quarrel with Plato, and her adoration of Simeon’s Maigret novels. Bonus: I tell a long, awful and emotional story from last weekend (it starts around the 75:00 mark, so feel free to stop long before that).

“I have this idea about Plato: no one loves Plato who does not already think himself a guardian.”

We talk about a lot of of books in this episode. Here’s a list of ’em (Note: if I ever go to a Patreon crowdfunding model for the show, this is the first thing that goes subscriber-only):

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Samet_0044F PUB-Bachrach©Elizabeth D. Samet is the author of No Man’s Land: Preparing for War and Peace in Post-9/11 America (FSG). Her first book, Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point (Picador), won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Current Interest and was named one of the 100 Notable Books of the Year by The New York Times. Samet’s work has appeared in various publications, including the The New York Times, The New Republic, and Bloomberg View. She is also the editor of Leadership: Essential Writings by Our Greatest Thinkers, which is out this month from Norton. Samet won the 2012 Hiett Prize in the Humanities and is also the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is a professor of English at West Point.

Credits: This episode’s music is On, Brave Old Army Team by West Point Marching Band. The conversation was recorded at Prof. Samet’s apartment on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Formal photo of Prof. Samet by Bachrach; bookshelf photo of Prof. Samet by me.

What It Is: 8/23/10

What I’m reading: After Bernard Knox’s death last week, I decided to read his introduction to Fagles’ translations of Homer. I found myself bored by them for some reason (probably because of their focus on philology), so I decided to break out my old Richmond Lattimore translation of the Iliad. I don’t think I ever read the intro before (written by Lattimore), choosing instead to dive right into the poem itself. It was illuminating, esp. his segment on how the meter of the poem informs some of the descriptions, as well as his piece on how many of the similes bring everyday life into a poem about war. I decided to dive back into the Iliad, with hopes of sticking through the Odyssey, too, and then rolling into Troilus & Cressida and some of the other Shakespeare plays I haven’t read. The problem is, it’s tough for me to stick with this stuff when I’m not being pushed nowadays. It almost makes me want to start some sorta online book club. I doubt I could put together a Homeric Reading Society of Ringwood, NJ, awesome though that concept would be. I could do what I did with that Montaigne collection, and try to write about it each week, but the Essays are (mostly) self-contained and speak about personal experience in a way that the Iliad and the Odyssey don’t. I think any attempt at writing book-by-book comments on Homer would be a waste of my time, insofar as it would have to involve real scholarship I simply don’t have the time to perform; I’d much rather have a conversation about it. Still, I’m going to reimmerse myself in the wrath of Achilles. I’ll try to let you know what comes of it. Maybe I’ll finally develop some ideas on how we’re supposed to understand the role of the gods in the play (Lattimore’s intro has some helpful comments on that, too.)

What I’m listening to: Greetings from Asbury Park, Spirit of Radio, Wake Up The Nation, and the most awesome single of the year:

What I’m watching: An Education and Whip It,. Comments to come on Tuesday. I hesitate to call them reviews. We also watched that Rush documentary again, because it was on, and because it’s wonderful to see the camaraderie within the band. And you really need to watch Louie.

What I’m drinking: G’Vine Nouaison & Q-Tonic.

What Rufus & Otis are up to: Not too much. I didn’t take them on my hikes this weekend, and we decided the Sunday grey-hike was too rainy to deal with.

Where I’m going: NYC this afternoon for a pharma-interview, but no other travels planned.

What I’m happy about: A raver-looking chick behind the register at Ramsey Outdoor told me, “Wow, you have really beautiful eyes,” when I was buying a hat to keep the sun off during hikes.

What I’m sad about: She could’ve been my daughter, if I’d started off young.

What I’m worried about: The doggies’ seeming bout of allergies, which is leading them to nibble on their forelegs and sides at weird hours. I thought they might have fleas, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Amy’s for giving them benadryl, but I’m hoping this’ll pass..

What I’m pondering: Whether I could launch that Homeric Reading Society here in town. “Ringwood Atheneum”?


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